The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made terms like “self-quarantine” and “social distancing” common phrases in everyday conversations.
Now, Merrian-Webster is making them official.
Hundreds of new words, highlighted by turns of phrase to emerge during the pandemic, have been added to Merrian-Webster’s lexicon as part of a special update to the dictionary last month.
In total, more than 535 new words and meanings have been added to Merriam-Webster.com, from aerosolization to zonkey. The update includes COVID-19-related words as well as terms relating to a variety of fields and endeavors, and ranging from the technical to the conversational.
“A dictionary’s mission is to give accurate information about the current vocabulary of a language,” says Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster. “Usually, it takes at least several years for new words to become dictionary entries—they must be used by many people and in a variety of publications over time."
Other pandemic-related words to be added to the dictionary include “physical distancing,” and “herd immunity,” as well as the appreciations “WFH” (working from home), and “PPE” (personal protective equipment.
Merrian Webster said that new words include immune surveillance, referring to “any monitoring process of the immune system that detects and destroys foreign substances, cells, or tissues.” A temporal thermometer, also known as a forehead thermometer, can be used to screen and track symptoms of COVID-19.
“This update includes plenty of terms that follow this pattern,” Sokolowski continued. But today, because vocabulary connected to the pandemic is both essential and frequently heard, we have also added many words that most of us had never encountered until just weeks ago.”
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